SACRAMENTO -- Labor's heavy lift on two campaigns paid big dividends last fall.

While the wealthy Munger siblings famously poured a combined $83 million into losing causes, labor unions flexed their financial muscle to capture two campaigns with about the same amount -- $85 million, according to the final round of the 2012 campaign finance reports, which were released late Thursday.

Labor went all in, spending $65 million to defeat Proposition 32, which would have stripped their political clout by outlawing the collection of union dues for political campaigns. That money enabled unions to put together a field program with volunteers blanketing the state, creating what union leaders say was a ripple effect that led to the stunning victory by Gov. Jerry Brown's tax-hike measure, Proposition 30.

Labor added more than $20 million to the Proposition 30 campaign and claim that the fervor behind those two campaigns helped Democrats capture super majorities in the Senate and Assembly.

"It was an extraordinary year in terms of the breadth of losses for the right wing in California," said Steve Smith, a spokesman for the California Labor Federation. "It's what I call the Proposition 32 ripple effect."

The most prolific spender among unions -- in keeping with history -- was the California Teachers Association, which spent $36 million -- of which $19.3 million went against Proposition 32 and $10.3 million to support Proposition 30.


Advertisement

Brown's Proposition 30 campaign spent just under $40 million. His financial backers spanned the full political spectrum, from unions to insurance groups, from Indian tribes to oil companies.

The business committee, SBAC, spent $70 million in its effort to shoot down Proposition 30 and in backing Proposition 32. The business group took a controversial $11 million donation that the state's watchdog agency, the Fair Political Practices Commission, said was laundered through three out-of-state Republican organizations.

But its biggest backer was Charles Munger, who provided half of their funding with $35 million. His younger half-sister, Molly Munger, spent even more -- $47.7 million for her failed Proposition 38 school funding measure, for a combined $83 million, perhaps the most ever spent by a sibling pair in a ballot campaign.

The final spending reports for Molly Munger were slightly higher than what had been reported just before the end of the fall campaign. At that time, the wealthy civil rights attorney reported $44 million in spending. The two are children of billionaire investor Charles Munger, Warren Buffett's partner at Berkshire Hathaway Corporation.

Molly Munger's campaign cash spree was a far cry from the $144 million that billionaire Republican Meg Whitman spent from her own personal treasury in her 2010 gubernatorial bid. And it fell just short of the $49.5 million that Steve Bing spent on Proposition 87, the failed 2006 oil severance tax hike, which is considered the most ever spent by an individual in a ballot measure campaign.

Billionaire George Joseph, the founder and chairman of Mercury Insurance, didn't spend as much as the Mungers in propping up Proposition 33, the measure that ostensibly gave drivers with good histories a possible discount but would have punished drivers who had failed to keep continuous insurance coverage. But unlike the balanced money battle over Prop. 30, Joseph's loss at the polls was remarkable by the vast money advantage he had over his opponents. Joseph outspent the Consumer Watchdog group $14.8 million to $245,537 and still lost.

Tom Steyer, the billionaire Bay Area hedge fund manager, was the one wealthy player in the fall campaigns to cash in on his investments.

Steyer poured in $29.6 million of his own fortune into the victorious Proposition 39, the measure that closed a tax loophole for out-of-state taxes and will bring in $1 billion a year, half of which will pay for energy-efficiency and clean-energy projects at public buildings and schools for the first five years.

"This year was not the exception to wealthy individuals spending millions on their pet ambitions," said Phillip Ung, lobbyist for California Common Cause. "That's why we believe we need ballot initiative reform because it's really only the wealthy interest groups or wealthy individuals that can get something on the ballot."

Contact Steven Harmon at 916-441-2101. Follow him at Twitter.com/ssharmon. Read the Political Blotter at IBAbuzz.com/politics.

top funders for gov. Jerry Brown's prop. 30
California Gov. Jerry Brown's Proposition 30 committee spent $40 million to win a temporary income tax increase on the wealthy and a sales tax. Here are the top five contributors:
California Teachers Association
$10.3 million
State Democratic Party
$4.1 million
Service Employees International Unions
$3.9 million
California Hospitals Association
$2 million
Californians Working Together (Assembly Speaker John Perez' committee)
$1.6 million

Top Individuals:
Reed Hastings, Netflix founder & CEO: $1 million
George Marcus, Palo Alto investor: $100,000
Jeffrey Katzenberg, Steven Spielberg and David Geffen, movie moguls: $33,333 each